We'll thank you, retailers, to leave Thanksgiving alone

The problem with Thanksgiving Day has always boiled down to this: How do you commercially exploit a holiday that celebrates gratitude? What's the trick for getting people counting their blessings to pause in their prayers of thankfulness, and get back in tune with their lust for consumer electronics?

What's more, Thanksgiving Day often causes these same consumers to dabble with the idea that the most important things in their lives were non-material – that contentment doesn't come from a store. Talk about a slippery slope. Face it: There's just no money in thankfulness.

Now, you may not see this as a problem. You may, like me, rejoice over the fact that while that big holiday in December has increasingly become a festival of orgiastic consumerism, Thanksgiving Day has remained largely uncorrupted; it's still mainly about breaking bread with the people most important to us, and focusing on what we already have, instead of what we want. You may also, like me, regard Thanksgiving Day's enduring resistance to corruption with a certain astonishment. Hardly anything stays that pure these days.

Thanksgiving Day has remained simple, subtle, hype-less – in other words, a big dud, charge card-wise. Lo these many years, Thanksgiving has been regarded, from the retail point of view, as nothing but an irritating speed bump on the way to the Christmas shopping season. The best retailers could do to link Thanksgiving Day to the insanity of Christmas was to call it the pause before the starting gun – Black Friday Eve, so to speak.

We knew it couldn't last, and it didn't. In recent years some stores declared that Black Friday would begin at 8 p.m. Thursday. This year Walmart will start the madness at 6 p.m. Thursday, before the dishes are even washed. Best Buy will open at 6 p.m., and Toys R Us at 5 p.m., while we're still eating our pumpkin pie.

In a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Britt Beemer, CEO of America's Research Group, which investigates consumer habits, is quoted as saying: "It's kind of sad, but probably to be expected. I thought retailers would respect the 8 o'clock hour more, but it didn't take. ...By moving up to 6 o'clock, we're now encroaching into that Thanksgiving digestion time."

Meanwhile, Meijer, Macy's, Target and J.C Penney will open at 8 p.m. Thursday. That almost sounds reasonable, which demonstrates the subtle ways of corruption.

The headline on an Oct. 31 story on Time magazine's website declared: "Stores are about to push further into Thanksgiving Day." The story said, in part: "It seems like there’s no stopping consumerism from creeping deeper and deeper into Thanksgiving. ...As more retailers and shopping centers have jumped on board, the 'Black Thursday' trend has snowballed.”

The writer pointed out that that while many Americans cluck their tongues at the encroachment, there never seems to be a shortage of bargain hunters, regardless of when the stores open. If the deals are good enough, nothing is sacred.

So, if 6 p.m., why not 4 p.m? Why not noon, or 6 a.m.? Where is it written that Thanksgiving Day must include a big meal with the people we love? Can't we say our thank-yous at the mall food court?

Who among us can watch the perennial Black Friday TV news footage of people trampling over other people to celebrate the birth of Christ, and not wince? Now, imagine this spectacle unfolding on Thanksgiving Day. The irony would be too brutal to take.

It's unlikely that the retail juggernaut can be stopped. It's only a matter of time before the only parades we see on Thanksgiving Day are parades of shoppers.

Our ace in the hole, however, is our individual discretion. We all have the power, within our own households, to cherish Thanksgiving Day as an opportunity for spiritual enrichment, as opposed to material acquisition.

And we can leave our TVs off that day, so we don't have to watch the shoppers trample all over Thanksgiving Day.

Facts matter. Trust matters. Journalism matters.

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Sat, 11/23/2013 - 9:35am
Its too bad that Thanksgiving and the start of the Christmas shopping season is so close together on the calendar, there would probably be more respect for what Thanksgiving is supposed to be about if there were more distance between them.
Sun, 11/24/2013 - 6:22am
I have always refused to shop on Thanksgiving, Christmas and Easter. If I am out of something, too bad. I'm out, but I will NOT run to the store.If more people did NOT shop on those days, stores would get the hint and not be open, so that their employees could enjoy family and friends. Maybe the big shots in headquarters should be told to put in their 8 hours.--not going to happen!
Sun, 11/24/2013 - 6:48am
I think the states should cash in on this trend. On thanksgiving day raise the sales tax on retail sales to 30%.
Sun, 11/24/2013 - 8:39am
I worked in retail, (supermarket) for 40 years. Store hours were 9 to 6 in the beginning, closed Sundays. Then 9 to 9 was the norm for a couple of years. Customers wanted Sunday shopping, were in line at 9AM, so the retailer responded. Open Sundays, and later, 24 hours. Not every resident is into daytime shopping, since work shifts are around the clock, and the retailer accomodates customers, If not, there is a store across the street that will. This is called competition for the mighty dollar. De we all agree? Not necessarily, but the world has advanced during our lifetimes. NewYears Day and Easter are already shopper available in many areas. Me we hope Christmas never happens. Don't bet on it, as this is not a religious day for everyone.
Sun, 11/24/2013 - 2:33pm
As someone with an interest in retailing I can guarantee you, If customers or shoppers didn't show up, stores wouldn't open. One more sign of the breakdown in our families and common culture in favor of the post modern world, which your colunists and readers should understand well.
Sun, 11/24/2013 - 6:43pm
It is a shame that people have to work on Thanksgiving. It is a time to spend with family and friends and play games with the kids. They have sales all the time. We need to teach our children the need of family life and not the love of shopping all the time.
Mon, 11/25/2013 - 7:36am
The 30% Sales Tax sounds great. How about compensating the workers who are hauled away from their families by requiring quintuple pay for anyone who has to work from 10 pm the day before Thanksgiving until 4 am the day after. Or maybe just make Thanksgiving just a regular workday and there would then be no one to shop as they would all be working. That seems to be the trend anyway.
Mon, 11/25/2013 - 10:12am
Has anybody started a campaign to encourage retailers to reverse this next year? If we could make it a PR opportunity for just one to not do it for the benefit of their employees, I think they all would. I suppose the real campaign is to not shop on Thursday. If enough people do, they will continue.